Austrian far-right leader under fire for Ibiza meeting video

FILE – In this Dec. 16, 2017 file photo, Heinz-Christian Strache, chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party, FPOE, speaks at a news conference in Vienna, Austria. Two German newspapers are reporting that the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party offered government contracts in return for support for his party from a potential Russian donor shortly before the Austrian’s 2017 parliamentary election. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak,file)

BERLIN (AP) — Austrian opposition parties called Friday for the country’s vice-chancellor to resign after a two German newspapers published footage of him apparently offering lucrative government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor.

The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the weekly Der Spiegel published extracts of covert video allegedly showing Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, meeting a woman claiming to be interested in investing large amounts of money in the Alpine nation. The two papers said the meeting, which took place months before Austria’s parliamentary election, was clearly a trap laid to compromise the two politicians, though it’s unclear who was behind it.

In the video, the source of which the newspapers declined to reveal, Strache and party colleague Johann Gudenus are heard telling the unnamed woman she can expect lucrative construction contracts if she buys an Austrian newspaper and supports the Freedom Party. Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel said the footage was authenticated by a forensic video expert. It couldn’t be immediately independently verified by The Associated Press.

“It’s time to end this nightmare,” the head of Austria’s Social Democratic Party, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, said after the reports. “Strache and Gudenus must step down today.”

She urged Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People’s Party to take responsibility for his government allies: “He chose to enter into this coalition.”

Werner Kogler, a leading member of Austria’s opposition Green Party, also urged Kurz to dissolve the coalition “or he himself will become untenable.”

According to the two newspapers, the video spanned some six hours of drink-fueled conversation in a villa on the Spanish island of Ibiza between the Austrian politicians and a woman claiming to be the niece of a prominent Russian businessman. Aside from discussing possible investments in Austria, including the purchase of influential tabloid newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Strache also appears to suggest ways of funneling money to his party via an unconnected foundation to circumvent Austrian rules on political donations.

There is no indication that any of the discussed Russian investments took place before or after the parliamentary elections, in which the Freedom Party came third with almost 26% of the vote.

Neither Strache nor Gudenus could immediately be reached for comment. Spiegel reported that the men confirmed taking part in a private meeting on Ibiza, but denied any wrongdoing.

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Sueddeutsche Zeitung report: http://bit.ly/2HoGwCg

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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